How to entertain a toddler while cooking | Don’t get distracted!

How to entertain a toddler while cooking | Don’t get distracted!

Little child playing with panHot pans, sharp knives, bubbling pots! The list of things that can hurt or harm a toddler in the kitchen is endless. Just when you think you’ve toddler-proofed every part of the kitchen, they find somewhere else to hurt themselves. As parents, we try and keep our children out of harm’s way as much as possible. What happens when you need to cook and entertain your toddler at the same time? Having a toddler dangling from your leg while you stir the spag-bol isn’t the safest way of cooking. But what is the best recipe? 

4 Ways to Keep Toddlers Entertained While you Cook


One of the safest you can put a toddler while you’re cooking is in their booster chair. You can secure them in with straps and know that they’ll be safe and with low risk of escaping. You can also control what is in their to reach. No knives or glassware nearby. For younger toddlers, a highchair would work just as well. You can position the chair facing you if your child needs a visual on your whereabouts. Or, if they are happy to entertain themselves, you can face them away. 


Toddler in playpen

If you have space, you can put them in a playpen while you are cooking. Once again, you’ll know where they are while you’re prepping the food so you won’t be distracted or worried about what they are doing. You’re able to control what toys go in the playpen, and your toddler can even request what they want. Plastic food items are always fun for toddlers and if they get bored of one toy you can easily swap it out in-between pot stirs.

Getting them to help out

Children love playing adults and imitating what they see. They also love dressing up and playing a part. Why not put on their pinny, give them a big mixing bowl (plastic) and give them a wooden spoon to stir. If you’re not too precious about the mess, you can even add some oats or rice to give them a better sensory experience. This can be done at the table or on the floor.

Toddlers helping to cook


Dinosaurs in the snow

This is a game that my daughter loves and keeps her occupied for hours. She has a big tub of dinosaurs in various sizes, which has little trees as well. We place them on the table or a tray and then add rice or oats the ‘snow.’ It can get a bit messy but that’s a small price to pay for the amount of play she gets out of it. The ‘snow’ can also be called ‘sand’ so the dinosaurs can go to the beach instead. The dinosaurs can also be swapped for cars or dolls. Oats and rice make great snow or sand effects, but you can also use couscous, salt, flour, or anything else in your pantry that is cheap, and you have lots to hand.
7 screen-free ways to entertain your kids while you make dinner

Separating pasta shapes

Toddlers love different textures and sorting, so grabbing 4 or 5 different pasta shapes and separating into different colored pots is an excellent way to keep them entertained. They can move the shapes from a small bowl to a bigger one or place one shape in each of the bowl colors. My daughter loves sorting and moving items around and stays entertained for at least 30 minutes. This will give you enough time to peel and chop your veg and make some headway in the cooking.

Pasta hedgehog

Continuing the pasta theme, grab a colander, flip it upside down and get your toddler to poke spaghetti into the holes. This will help with their hand-eye coordination and improve their fine-motor skills. This will keep them entertained for a reasonable amount of time and also out of harm’s way as you cook away at the stove. Once the hedgehog takes shape, you’ll be done with their meal.


A great way to entertain your toddler while cooking is to get them to free a toy from an ice block. This requires some prep beforehand, which is why I always have a steady supply of frozen toys. Pick some small toys, Lego people, Barbie shoes or plastic animals, find some suitable pots, and place them in. Add some water and freeze for 4-6 hours. Voila! Frozen toys that need help escaping. To make your ice completely clear, use filtered, boiled water. This way, the toy is visible through the ice. This is an excellent activity in the summer and will give you enough time to get dinner sorted. Make sure you have some old towels at hand to soak up the melted ice.

Fun on the refridgerator 

magnets on fridge

Depending on the type of fridge that you have will depend on how you can use it. If you have a built-in refrigerator, you’ll have fewer options as the magnetic part will be enclosed behind a door. Even so, with an integrated fridge, you can stick some paper on the door and let your toddler draw or paint on it. If that option is too messy for you, get the stickers out! Toddlers love stickers, and this will entertain them and keep them close to you. You can prepare some paper beforehand, so they are themed. For example, draw some roads and then use vehicle stickers. Or, draw a few trees and then use the jungle stickers. If you have a free-standing fridge, the door will most likely be magnetic. You can then give your toddler magnetic letters and numbers to play with. This is a guaranteed entertaining game for your toddler! 

Washing the dishes

Toddlers love water and splashing! Simply place a chair in front of the sink while leaving a tiny amount of water in a bowl or pan. You can even leave the tap on slightly to create a small water flow. Remember to remove any glassware or breakable items from their reach, as well as knives and other things that can cause harm. This keeps my daughter entertained for ages! When she gets bored, I add bubbles to re-engage her. Remember to keep some towels handy when the water inevitably spills on the floor.


Helping handKids cooking fresh vegetable salad

Toddlers love to help out and feel a part of your lives. They will love nothing better than helping you out in the kitchen, even if it’s a menial task and not instrumental to your meal. Washing vegetables is a fun game. You can give them a few potatoes to clean or some peppers. It helps them get used to seeing and handling vegetables which you can then point out during mealtime. Cooking can also be an educational adventure in which your toddler will discover new smells, textures and tastes. In addition to gaining a little helper, you will be able to entertain them while you cook.  

Toy drawer

If you have a large kitchen, you can dedicate a drawer for your toddler’s toys. This will give them their own space, and they will know when you are cooking, they can go to their drawer and get whatever toy they want. Toddlers love independence, so this gives them a great sense of freedom. You can also put some colorful utensils in the drawer so they can play cooking. 

Chief taster 

Girl licking chocolate

Get your toddler involved in the kitchen as the chief taster. Make sure they know how important this role is and make it super exciting. You can then give them lots of different foods to taste. Get some little bowls and chop up some fruit or veg and let them touch and eat in their own time. To take it a step further, make a simple ranking table, and your toddler can add star stickers to their favorite foods. 

Napkin folding 

Get some paper or cotton napkins and get your toddler to fold them into shapes or animals. They obviously won’t be able to create realistic animal shapes but let their imagination run, and it’ll keep them entertained. Make them aware of how many people will be eating and that they’ll need to make a napkin for everyone. This will keep them entertained while you cook. You can set them up in their chair or make space on the floor. 

Draw their meal

One method my parents used to keep me awake whilst waiting for a meal in a restaurant was to get me to draw my meal. All you need is some paper and some crayons/pens/pencils. Draw a big plate in the center with a knife and fork either side. They can then draw each item that they will be eating or, more likely, what they want to eat. This is a great way of getting your toddler engaged with food and encouraging healthy eating. They will spend plenty of time drawing and coloring their favorite food.

Measuring ingredients 

Give your toddler some measuring cups and some simple ingredients. Rice is my go-to. Ask them to measure out the rice into the pots. They can pour the rice from one to the other multiple times before they get bored. By then, you’ll have made significant headway on the evening meal. 

Magazine cutouts

This is another one that you’ll need to prepare in advance, but once done it’ll keep them entertained long enough for you to make a meal. Gather all your old magazines and newspapers and cut out all the images with food. Separate the images into food categories, fruit, veg, meat, etc., or by color, red, green, yellow. Next, ask your toddler to prepare a meal using the cutouts. They will have great fun moving all the food around and organizing it into piles. To make the cutouts last longer, laminate them or cover in scotch tape, this will provide enough protection to last several mealtimes. 

Clean the table 

Toddlers love to imitate their parents and play at being a grown-up. One excellent way to imitate their parents is by cleaning the table. They will have watched you wipe down the table 100s of times, so will happily help out. It’s a great way of helping them understand cleanliness and encouraging them to clean up. Give them a cloth or piece of kitchen roll and encourage them to wipe the table down. This should give you 10-15 minutes to get some meal prep done. 


Like most parenting days, planning, where possible, is the key. A little bit of planning can go a long way. You’ll need a place where your toddler can happily play without crawling under your legs or getting burnt by any spitting pans. You’ll want to be able to concentrate on cooking without getting distracted by a screaming and unhappy toddler. 

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About the author
Daisy is a writer, mom, and expert on all things toddler-related. As a parent of three young children, she's experienced the highs and lows of parenthood firsthand, and she's passionate about sharing her insights with others. Through her website, The Toddler Life, Daisy offers practical advice and tips on everything from potty training to picky eaters. She's not afraid to get real about the challenges of parenting, and her honest and relatable writing style has earned her a loyal following of readers.

How to entertain a toddler while cooking | Don’t get distracted!

How to entertain a toddler while cooking | Don’t get distracted!